CoastWise Alaska

Alaska Stranding Network

Length with intro/outro: 3:07

Download mp3 file: Alaska Stranding Network [2.9 MB]


Alaska has some 35,000 miles of coastline. Most if it is quite remote. But even so, people come across stranded and dead marine mammals on a fairly regular basis. Coming up next on CoastWise Alaska: what to do if you spot a whale on the beach.


entangled whaleMaybe a couple of times each month, the phone in Kate Wynne’s Kodiak office rings with calls from people who’ve spotted a marine mammal—a seal, sea lion, or sometimes even a whale—that appears to be dead, entangled, stranded, or otherwise in trouble.

WYNNE: “In Kodiak, there are usually several whales a year, let alone otters and seals and other species, that I hear about. And so obviously there are a lot we don’t see. Often it’s Coast Guard pilots or charter pilots that call in, and I get a lot of reports from fishermen who ran across floating carcasses that may never get to shore. But they send me pictures of the floating whale or something with a date.”

Wynne is a marine mammal biologist with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, and she’s one of several volunteers with the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network—people trained to help stranded or entangled marine mammals and collect biological information from dead marine mammals. If the animal can be reached safely and quickly, Wynne heads to the scene.

WYNNE: “We get to a site, and we confirm the species, if we can figure out the sex, whether it is dead or alive. We take photographs. We look at the area around the animal to see if there are signs of any entanglement in anything, or any injuries to their body. And if they’re dead, there’s sort of another level of things that we look for, including whether there are other species dead in the area. For instance, there might be a bunch of dead fish on the tide line next to the animal, or some signs of human injury like boat propeller marks or fishing gear or lines or something human-related.”

Wynne says the information she and others across the state collect helps scientists learn more about where marine mammals go and what they eat. A dead carcass sometimes has clues to how the animal died. And tissue samples help scientists keep track of how pollutants are accumulating up the food chain.

WYNNE: “After a while, there’s not much you can tell about these guys. They kind of become one with the earth. But before that point there are different levels of information you can gather.

Wynne says the stranding network relies on the public calling in their sightings of stranded or dead marine mammals. So if you’re out on Alaska’s coastal waters and you spot a carcass or an animal in trouble, Wynne asks for your help.

WYNNE: “The first thing is to note where they are and when they get to the phone call NOAA Enforcement or the Coast Guard or the State Troopers. Tell them what you saw, where you saw it, and when you saw it, and that sort of starts the ball rolling.”


CoastWise Alaska is a production of the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, which offers outreach and technical assistance to help Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy the state's marine and coastal resources. Check out our Web site at

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